Assessment and Feedback

This week, our discussion centered around grading and assessment issues and the potential negative effects that grading and assessment can have on learning outcomes.

The Observer Effect.  The original purpose of grading was to quantify the quality of student learning.  However, grading suffers from something similar to the “observer effect” in physics — by measuring student learning, we unavoidably alter student learning — and the consensus seems to be that, in the current grading system, we are not changing it for the better.  Knowing this, one might argue that we stop assessing students altogether, and let their learning processes take their natural, unmeasured course.  However . . . why do we teach, if not to influence student learning?  Can we alter our methods of “measurement” to influence students in a positive way?  I believe that although grading might not be necessary in the classroom, feedback is essential to the learning process.

As one article on alternative assessment techniques describes it:

Feedback is information about how we did in light of some goal. We hit the tennis ball and see where it lands, we give a speech and hear (as well as witness) audience reaction as we speak, we design an experiment and check the results for error margin, we use the word processor and the spell checker underlines misspellings – feedback.

On a molecular level, the concept of feedback is essential to how the body regulates its functions.  In biochemistry, the term “feedback inhibition” is used to describe a situation in which the presence of a product inhibits the enzymes that create it.  This forms a self-regulating system — when you’ve produced enough insulin, you disable the process that makes insulin, and so on.


In the same way, learners can use feedback to regulate their learning process.  Therefore, while getting an A-F on a paper doesn’t tell the student much, hearing what the instructor (or a peer) got from the essay, what they though was done well / less well, or what feelings that writing evoked for the reader, the student can better see their own strengths and weaknesses.  Without feedback, students might feel like they aren’t being heard — like they are shouting into emptiness.


One example of a good use of feedback from my own student experience was in a class that required blogging.  Although our instructor did not grade our blogs, she responded to every student each week (it was a smaller class than this one).  This helped me see what another person was getting from my blog, and it helped me feel as if someone was “out there” on the other end.

What do you think?  I appreciate your feedback :).

Leave a Reply